The Info List - Avestan

/əˈvɛstən/,[2] also known historically as Zend, is a language known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture (the Avesta), from which it derives its name. The language is classified as an Iranian language, a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages within the Indo-European family. Its immediate ancestor was the Proto-Indo-Iranian language, and as such it is a sister language to the proto-Indic language, which is assumed to have been quite close to Vedic
Sanskrit. The Avestan
text corpus was composed in ancient Arachosia, Aria, Bactria, and Margiana,[3] corresponding to the entirety of present-day Afghanistan, and parts of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The Yaz culture[4] of Bactria- Margiana
has been regarded as a likely archaeological reflection of the early "Eastern Iranian" culture described in the Avesta. Avestan's status as a sacred language has ensured its continuing use for new compositions long after the language had ceased to be a living language. It is closely related to Vedic
Sanskrit, the oldest preserved Indo-Aryan language.[5]


1 Genealogy 2 Forms and stages of development 3 Alphabet 4 Phonology

4.1 Consonants 4.2 Vowels

5 Grammar

5.1 Nouns 5.2 Verbs

6 Sample text 7 Example phrases 8 See also 9 Notes 10 References 11 Sources 12 Further reading

Genealogy[edit] "Avestan, which is associated with northeastern Iran, and Old Persian, which belongs to the southwest, together constitute what is called Old Iranian."[6][f 1] The Old Iranian
Old Iranian
language group is a branch of the Indo-Iranian language group. Iranian languages
Iranian languages
are traditionally classified as "eastern" or "western", and within this framework Avestan
is classified as eastern. But this distinction is of limited meaning for Avestan, as the linguistic developments that later distinguish Eastern from Western Iranian had not yet occurred. Avestan does not display some typical (South-)Western Iranian innovations already visible in Old Persian, and so in this sense, "eastern" only means "non-western".[8] That is not to say that Avestan
does not display any characteristic innovations of its own – e.g., the sibilant pronunciation of the consonant in aša, corresponding to original /rt/ that is preserved in the Old Persian
Old Persian
form (arta), as well as Sanskrit
(ṛta). Old Avestan
is closely related to Old Persian
Old Persian
and agrees largerly in nature to Vedic
Sanskrit.[9] It is believed that it might be close to an ancestor dialect of Pashto
as well.[10] Forms and stages of development[edit] The Avestan
language is attested in roughly two forms, known as "Old Avestan" (or "Gathic Avestan") and "Younger Avestan". Younger Avestan did not evolve from Old Avestan; the two differ not only in time, but are also different dialects. Every Avestan
text, regardless of whether originally composed in Old or Younger Avestan, underwent several transformations. Karl Hoffmann traced the following stages for Avestan as found in the extant texts. In roughly chronological order:

The natural language of the composers of the Gathas, the Yasna Haptanghaiti, the four sacred prayers (Y. 27 and 54). Changes precipitated by slow chanting Changes to Old Avestan
due to transmission by native speakers of Younger Avestan The natural language of the scribes who wrote grammatically correct Younger Avestan
texts Deliberate changes introduced through "standardization" Changes introduced by transfer to regions where Avestan
was not spoken Adaptions/translations of portions of texts from other regions Composition of ungrammatical late Avestan
texts Phonetic notation
Phonetic notation
of the Avestan
texts in the Sasanian archetype Post-Sasanian deterioration of the written transmission due to incorrect pronunciation Errors and corruptions introduced during copying

Many phonetic features cannot be ascribed with certainty to a particular stage since there may be more than one possibility. Every phonetic form that can be ascribed to the Sasanian archetype on the basis of critical assessment of the manuscript evidence must have gone through the stages mentioned above so that "Old Avestan" and "Young Avestan" really mean no more than "Old Avestan
and Young Avestan
of the Sasanian period."[6] Alphabet[edit] Main article: Avestan
alphabet The script used for writing Avestan
developed during the 3rd or 4th century AD. By then the language had been extinct for many centuries, and remained in use only as a liturgical language of the Avesta
canon. As is still the case today, the liturgies were memorized by the priesthood and recited by rote. The script devised to render Avestan
was natively known as Din dabireh "religion writing". It has 53 distinct characters and is written right-to-left. Among the 53 characters are about 30 letters that are – through the addition of various loops and flourishes – variations of the 13 graphemes of the cursive Pahlavi script
Pahlavi script
(i.e. "Book" Pahlavi) that is known from the post-Sassanian texts of Zoroastrian tradition. These symbols, like those of all the Pahlavi scripts, are in turn based on Aramaic script symbols. Avestan
also incorporates several letters from other writing systems, most notably the vowels, which are mostly derived from Greek minuscules. A few letters were free inventions, as were also the symbols used for punctuation. Also, the Avestan alphabet
Avestan alphabet
has one letter that has no corresponding sound in the Avestan
language; the character for /l/ (a sound that Avestan
does not have) was added to write Pazend
texts. Avestan
script is alphabetic, and the large number of letters suggests that its design was due to the need to render the orally recited texts with high phonetic precision. The correct enunciation of the liturgies was (and still is) considered necessary for the prayers to be effective. The Zoroastrians of India, who represent one of the largest surviving Zoroastrian communities worldwide, also transcribe Avestan
in Brahmi-based scripts. This is a relatively recent development first seen in the ca. 12th century texts of Neryosang Dhaval and other Parsi Sanskritist theologians of that era, and which are roughly contemporary with the oldest surviving manuscripts in Avestan
script. Today, Avestan
is most commonly typeset in Gujarati script
Gujarati script
(Gujarati being the traditional language of the Indian Zoroastrians). Some Avestan
letters with no corresponding symbol are synthesized with additional diacritical marks, for example, the /z/ in zaraϑuštra is written with j with a dot below. Phonology[edit] Main article: Avestan
phonology Avestan
has retained voiced sibilants, and has fricative rather than aspirate series. There are various conventions for transliteration of Dīn Dabireh, the one adopted for this article being: Vowels:

a ā ə ə̄ e ē o ō å ą i ī u ū


k g γ x xʷ č ǰ t d δ ϑ t̰ p b β f ŋ ŋʷ ṇ ń n m y w r s z š ṣ̌ ž h

The glides y and w are often transcribed as ii and uu, imitating Dīn Dabireh orthography. The letter transcribed t̰ indicates an allophone of /t/ with no audible release at the end of a word and before certain obstruents.[11] Consonants[edit]

Type Labial Dental Alveolar Post-alveolar or palatal Velar Labiovelar Glottal


m /m/

n /n/

ń [ɲ]

ŋ /ŋ/

ŋʷ /ŋʷ/

Plosive p /p/ b /b/ t /t/ d /d/

č /tʃ/ ǰ /dʒ/ k /k/ g /ɡ/

Fricative f /ɸ/ β /β/ ϑ /θ/ δ /ð/ s /s/ z /z/ š /ʃ/ ž /ʒ/ x /x/ γ /ɣ/ xʷ /xʷ/

h /h/


y /j/

w /w/


r /r/

According to Beekes, [ð] and [ɣ] are allophones of /θ/ and /x/ respectively (in Old Avestan). Vowels[edit]

Type Front Central Back

short long short long short long

Close i /i/ ī /iː/   u /u/ ū /uː/

Mid e /e/ ē /eː/ ə /ə/ ə̄ /əː/ o /o/ ō /oː/

Open   a /a/ ā /aː/

å /ɒː/

Nasal   ą /ã/


Grammar[edit] Nouns[edit]

Case "normal" endings a-stems: (masc. neut.)

Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural

Nominative -s -ā -ō (-as), -ā -ō (yasn-ō) -a (vīr-a) -a (-yasna)

Vocative – -ā -ō (-as), -ā -a (ahur-a) -a (vīr-a) -a (yasn-a), -ånghō

Accusative -əm -ā -ō (-as, -ns), -ā -əm (ahur-əm) -a (vīr-a) -ą (haom-ą)

Instrumental -ā -byā -bīš -a (ahur-a) -aēibya (vīr-aēibya) -āiš (yasn-āiš)

Dative -ē -byā -byō (-byas) -āi (ahur-āi) -aēibya (vīr-aēibya) -aēibyō (yasn-aēibyō)

Ablative -at -byā -byō -āt (yasn-āt) -aēibya (vīr-aēibya) -aēibyō (yasn-aēibyō)

Genitive -ō (-as) -å -ąm -ahe (ahur-ahe) -ayå (vīr-ayå) -anąm (yasn-anąm)

Locative -i -ō, -yō -su, -hu, -šva -e (yesn-e) -ayō (zast-ayō) -aēšu (vīr-aēšu), -aēšva


Primary active endings

Person Singular Dual Plural

1st -mi -vahi -mahi

2nd -hi -tha -tha

3rd -ti -tō, -thō -ṇti

Sample text[edit]

Latin alphabet Avestan
alphabet Gujarati script
Gujarati script

ahiiā. yāsā. nəmaŋhā. ustānazastō.1 rafəδrahiiā.maniiə̄uš.2 mazdā.3 pouruuīm.4 spəṇtahiiā. aṣ̌ā. vīspə̄ṇg.5 š́iiaoϑanā.6vaŋhə̄uš. xratūm.7 manaŋhō. yā. xṣ̌nəuuīṣ̌ā.8 gə̄ušcā. uruuānəm.9:: (du. bār)::ahiiā. yāsā. nəmaŋhā. ustānazastō. rafəδrahiiā.maniiə̄uš. mazdā. pouruuīm. spəṇtahiiā. aṣ̌ā. vīspə̄ṇg. š́iiaoϑanā.vaŋhə̄uš. xratūm. manaŋhō. yā. xṣ̌nəuuīṣ̌ā. gə̄ušcā. uruuānəm.::

અહીઆ। યાસા। નામંગહા। ઉસ્તાનજ઼સ્તો।૧ રફ઼ાધરહીઆ।મનીઆઉસ્̌।૨ મજ઼્દા।૩ પોઉરુઉઈમ્।૪ સ્પાણ્તહીઆ। અષ્̌આ। વીસ્પાણ્ગ્।૫ સ્̌́ઇઇઅઓથઅના।૬વંગહાઉસ્̌। ક્સરતૂમ્।૭ મનંગહો। યા। ક્સષ્̌નાઉઉઈષ્̌આ।૮ ગાઉસ્̌ચા। ઉરુઉઆનામ્।૯:: (દુ। બાર્)::અહીઆ। યાસા। નામંગહા। ઉસ્તાનજ઼સ્તો। રફ઼ાધરહીઆ।મનીઆઉસ્̌। મજ઼્દા। પોઉરુઉઈમ્। સ્પાણ્તહીઆ। અષ્̌આ। વીસ્પાણ્ગ્। સ્̌́ઇઇઅઓથઅના।વવંગહાઉસ્̌। ક્સરતૂમ્। મનંગહો। યા। ક્સષ્̌નાઉઉઈષ્̌આ। ગાઉસ્̌ચા। ઉરુઉઆનામ્।::

Example phrases[edit] The following phrases were phonetically transcribed from Avestan:[12]

Avestan English Comment

tapaiti It's hot Can also mean "he is hot" or "she is hot" (in temperature)

šiiauuaθa You(p) move

vō vatāmi I understand you(p)

mā vātaiiaθa You(p) teach me Literally: "You let me understand"

dim naiiehi You lead him/her

dim vō nāiiaiieiti He/she lets you(p) lead him/her Present tense

mā barahi You carry me

nō baraiti He/she carries us

θβā dim bāraiiāmahi We let him/her carry you Present tense

drauuāmahi We run

dīš drāuuaiiāmahi We let them run Present tense

θβā hacāmi I follow you

dīš hācaiieinti They accompany them Literally: "They let them follow"

ramaiti He rests

θβā rāmaiiemi I calm you Literally: "I let you rest"

Note: "you" is singular unless marked with a (p) for plural. See also[edit]

Proto-Iranian language Proto-Indo-Iranian language Proto-Indo-European language


^ "It is impossible to attribute a precise geographical location to the language of the Avesta... With the exception of an important study by P. Tedesco (1921 [...]), who advances the theory of an 'Avestan homeland' in northwestern Iran, Iranian scholars of the twentieth century have looked increasingly to eastern Iran
for the origins of the Avestan
language and today there is general agreement that the area in question was in eastern Iran—a fact that emerges clearly from every passage in the Avesta
that sheds any light on its historical and geographical background."[7]


^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Avestan". Glottolog
3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.  ^ Wells, John C. (1990), Longman pronunciation dictionary, Harlow, England: Longman, p. 53, ISBN 0-582-05383-8  entry "Avestan" ^ Witzel, Michael. "THE HOME OF THE ARYANS" (PDF). Harvard University. p. 10. Retrieved 8 May 2015. Since the evidence of Young Avestan place names so clearly points to a more eastern location, the Avesta is again understood, nowadays, as an East Iranian text, whose area of composition comprised -- at least -- Sīstån/Arachosia, Herat, Merw and Bactria.  ^ Mallory, J P (1997). Encyclopedia of Indo-European culture. page 653. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. ISBN 978-1-884964-98-5. entry "Yazd culture". ^ Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices by Mary Boyce (pg. 18) ^ a b Hoffmann, Karl (1989), " Avestan
language", Encyclopedia Iranica, 3, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 47–52 . ^ Gnoli, Gherardo (1989), " Avestan
geography", Encyclopedia Iranica, 3, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 44–47 . ^ Encyclopaedia Iranica: EASTERN IRANIAN LANGUAGES. By Nicholas Sims-Williams ^ Hoffmann, K. Encyclopaedia Iranica. AVESTAN LANGUAGE. III. The grammar of Avestan.: "The morphology of Avestan
nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and verbs is, like that of the closely related Old Persian, inherited from Proto-Indo-European via Proto-Indo-Iranian (Proto-Aryan), and agrees largely with that of Vedic, the oldest known form of Indo-Aryan. The interpretation of the transmitted Avestan texts presents in many cases considerable difficulty for various reasons, both with respect to their contexts and their grammar. Accordingly, systematic comparison with Vedic
is of much assistance in determining and explaining Avestan
grammatical forms." ^ Morgenstierne, G. Encyclopaedia Iranica: AFGHANISTAN vi. Paṧto "it seems that the Old Iranic ancestor dialect of Paṧtō must have been close to that of the Gathas." ^ Hale, Mark (2004). "Avestan". In Roger D. Woodard. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-56256-2.  ^ Lubotsky, Alexander (2010). Van Sanskriet tot Spijkerschrift: Breinbrekers uit alle talen [From Sanskrit
to Cuneiform: Brain teasers from all languages] (in Dutch). Amsterdam University Press. pp. 18, 69–71. ISBN 9089641793. Retrieved 30 April 2016. 


Beekes, Robert S. P. (1988), A Grammar of Gatha-Avestan, Leiden: Brill, ISBN 90-04-08332-4 . Hoffmann, Karl; Forssman, Bernhard (1996), Avestische Laut- und Flexionslehre, Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft 84, Institut fur Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck, ISBN 3-85124-652-7 . Kellens, Jean (1990), " Avestan
syntax", Encyclopedia Iranica, 3/sup, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul  Skjærvø, Prod Oktor (2006), Old Avestan, fas.harvard.edu . Skjærvø, Prod Oktor (2006), Introduction to Young Avestan, fas.harvard.edu .

Further reading[edit]

Information on Avestan
language at avesta.org Old Iranian
Old Iranian
(including Old and Young Avestan) at The University of Texas Old Avestan
and Young Avestan
at Harvard University Text samples and Avesta
Corpus at TITUS. Boyce, Mary (1989), " Avestan
people", Encyclopedia Iranica, 3, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 62–66 .

v t e

Iranian languages



Old Persian Median


Avestan Old Scythian



Middle Persian Parthian


Bactrian Khwarezmian Ossetic


Saka Scythian Sogdian



Old Azari Balochi Central Iran Zoroastrian Dari Fars Gilaki Gorani Kurdic

Sorani Kurmanji Southern group Laki

Mazandarani Semnani Taleshi Deilami Tati Zazaki



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